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UF/IFAS’ newest hire at CREC concentrating on flavor and beneficial chemical compounds

Yu Wang

LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — One of the University of Florida’s newest professors, Yu Wang, came all the way from Mars to work as a flavor researcher with the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Mars, Incorporated, that is – the same folks who bring us the chocolate treats M&Ms, Dove and Twix Bars.

“You have a LOT of chocolate every day and some chocolate ice cream after lunch,” Wang said of her former employer. “I think what I did at Mars is quite similar here. Using flavor technology, we can improve product quality.”

Now this former M.I.T. biochemistry postdoctoral researcher is switching from chocolate to citrus at the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred, where she hopes to enhance orange juice flavor and possibly identify chemical compounds to improve human health or even treat citrus greening, a disease devastating Florida’s $10.7 billion citrus industry.

“There are a lot of byproducts during the orange juice processing – the juice industry is using peel oil to enhance the flavor, but there’s still a lot of unknown areas,” Wang said. “The byproducts – the rag and the peel – just go to cattle feed, but if we can use the byproduct as a flavor modulator, if we can put this part back into our orange juice, it can enhance the quality of our juice and provide additional economic returns to benefit the citrus industry.”

Wang was born in China; she obtained a bachelor’s of engineering degree in 2003 from Hefei University of Technology in Hefei, China.  Her next stop was Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where she received a master’s degree in food chemistry. Then she earned a Ph.D. from Rutgers and did a Humboldt research fellowship in Germany. She said she wanted to work at UF’s CREC because of its international reputation as a first-rate research facility, particularly in flavor.

“When it opened I thought, ‘Oh, this is really a good position!’” she said.

Michael Rogers, interim director of UF’s Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred praised her work ethic.

”Dr. Wang is a talented researcher who is full of energy and ideas,” Rogers said.  “We are excited to have her join the faculty at the CREC and put her skills to work developing new tools that will undoubtedly be important for the future of the Florida citrus industry. “

Wang said she wants to help enhance the chemistry program at CREC.

“Can we use chemistry technology to find a beneficial compound for pharmaceuticals?” she asked hopefully.  “We have the chemistry skills here – we could also help greening to help with early detection or treatment evaluation.  Or we could find some chemical biomarkers which helps us understand the pathology of greening.”

By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, k.moore.wilmoth@ufl.edu

Source: Yu Wang, 863-956-8673, yu.wang@ufl.edu

Photo caption: Yu Wang, flavor researcher at the University of Florida’s Citrus Research and Education Center. Photo by UF/IFAS

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